FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Son of Neurontin Meets the Fibromyalgia Epidemic

by MARTHA ROSENBERG

Who says technology transfer doesn’t pay?

Pregablin, discovered by Northwestern University chemist Richard Silverman in 1989 to become Pfizer’s Lyrica, earned the university a cool $700 million when it sold royalties in Dec. 2007.

The nerve pain-cum-seizure pill is funding the $100 million Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics & Diagnostics–currently a hole in the ground on the way to the student union–which will employ 245 this fall. Views of Lake Michigan and the duck pond included.

And, thanks to FDA approval in 2007 of Lyrica as the first US drug for the pain condition fibromyalgia, it may earn as much as its molecular relative–Pfizer’s Neurontin (gabapentin)–which made $3 billion a year before its patent ran out in 2004.

No wonder they call Lyrica son of Neurontin.

Of course there have been setbacks on the road to marketing Lyrica.

In 2001, Pfizer had to freeze pain trials and restrict pregablin in patients when test mice developed cancerous tumors. Profit warning! But when rats tests were okay, Toni Hoover, a vice president with Pfizer’s now defunct Ann Arbor, MI labs sounded the all clear. “The FDA has found that the benefit of taking the drug outweighs any risk,” she told the Detroit News.

Pfizer brass failed to embrace Silverman the way it embraced the $564 million he made for them in Lyrica’s first three months. (“They had a launch party for the drug, and I asked to come. Nope. No party for me. They take your stuff and tell you to go away,” he told the Chicago Tribune.)

And Lyrica’s not approved for the “social phobia” detailed in Pfizer original marketing plans. Yet.

But as long as pharma can get a drug approved in advance of its uses and people will take an antipsychotic for the blues or a seizure med for migraines, Lyrica has a future.

Initial articles about Lyrica which, like Neurontin, is an anti-seizure drug that modulates calcium channels to dampen the excitability of nerve endings, were positive.

“Well tolerated,” said Arthritis and Rheumatism in 2005.

“Proven efficacy” and “No new adverse events,” said Drugs of Today in 2005 and 2007.

“Durability of effect for relieving FM pain,” said the journal Pain in 2008.

Unfortunately the articles were all written by Pfizer paid doctors.

Actual users of Lyrica report memory loss, mental confusion, extreme weight gain, hair loss, impaired driving, disorientation, twitching and a lot of I’d-rather-have-my-fibro-symptoms-back-if-this-is-the-cure on askapatient.com. P.S. There are two deaths.

Of course its no secret that Pfizer’s blockbusters Viagra, Zoloft and Lipitor are history and its pipeline is bare. In January, it announced it was losing 800 of its researchers and buying Wyeth (no danger of getting new researchers there.)

Nor can its gravy train of antibiotics in food animals–pun intended–last much longer with residues found in meat, water and even crops and world recognition of antibiotic resistance.

Just as people were forgetting that Pfizer paid $430 million in 2004 for criminally promoting Neurontin for bipolar disorder, attention-deficit disorder, restless legs syndrome and other unapproved disorders, an article in the January 9 New England Journal of Medicine titled “The Neurontin Legacy–Marketing through Misinformation and Manipulation,” shows it’s déjà vu all over again at Pfizer.

Nor is Lyrica the only game in town anymore for fibromyalgia since the FDA approved Lilly’s antidepressant Cymbalta in 2008 and Forest Laboratories’ antidepressant Savella in January. Now Americans can choose between an antidepressant with a black box warning for suicide and a seizure medication for a disease they didn’t know they had–or was an epidemic–ten years ago.

Lyrica itself was slated for an FDA black box suicide warning in 2008. A 92-page appeal from Pfizer last summer called the suicide stats “an exaggeration of risk that is introduced by ascertainment bias” and cautioned against “overwarning…patients and prescribers” so that they “underestimate the risks of declining treatment.” Especially risks for Pfizer.

As Northwestern students negotiate the snow and construction at the future home of the Richard and Barbara Silverman Hall for Molecular Therapeutics & Diagnostics, any pain they feel is from all-nighters, all-you-can-drink nights and the cold–not fibromyalgia. Few will remember Lyrica when classes start in the new science hall. Nor can a building be withdrawn.

MARTHA ROSENBERG is a columnist/cartoonist who writes about public health. She can be reached  at martharosenberg@sbcglobal.net

 

 

Martha Rosenberg is an investigative health reporter. She is the author of  Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health (Prometheus).

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians to the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
Rivera Sun
Accountability: An Abandoned American Value
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
Robert Koehler
The Heart of Order
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
August 25, 2016
Mike Whitney
The Broken Chessboard: Brzezinski Gives Up on Empire
Paul Cox – Stan Cox
The Louisiana Catastrophe Proves the Need for Universal, Single-Payer Disaster Insurance
John W. Whitehead
Another Brick in the Wall: Children of the American Police State
Lewis Evans
Genocide in Plain Sight: Shooting Bushmen From Helicopters in Botswana
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail